It seems there are two Gonzaga Bulldogs squads. One is ranked no. 7 in the nation and plays incredibly efficient basketball on both ends of the floor. The other is a pedestrian group, a March disaster waiting to happen, that plays the first 20 minutes of basketball games.
This wasn't always the case. But for the last month or so, tonight at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas included, it has been. On the bright side, that second squad has managed to win all but one game that the first had put in danger.
Przemek Karnowski set a new career high with 24 points, besting his previous of 22 which came against Southern Utah on November 9, 2012. His counterpart in the Zags' starting front-court, Kyle Wiltjer, had a rough game — he was helped off the court late in the game after a hard foul but would return to the bench seemingly — but still tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Gonzaga's starting five made it just barely more than a minute into the game before a bleeding Kyle Wiltjer had to be subbed out. His replacement, Domantas Sabonis, played three minutes and tallied three rebounds. Gonzaga is deep.
The Zags' offense was clicking out of the gate, which hasn't been the case for the past month or so. Even when the Dons played a strong 34 seconds on defense Byron Wesley got a turnaround jumper to fall through the net at the buzzer. That gave Gonzaga a 10-5 lead just under six minutes in.
On the other end of the floor, Kevin Pangos drew a charge to stop a Dons' fast break coming off of a steal. Even when the Dons played well the Zags had an answer.
But, the Dons weren't going away. Just like their last meeting, February 7 on the Hilltop, the Dons played with more intensity than the Zags. Kyle Wiltjer drilled two straight threes but they only put the Zags up by six.
Tim Derksen also hit two big threes in the half. His first tied the game at 20. The next bucket wasn't a three, but on the next possession Derksen put-back a Kruize Pinkins missed three to put the Dons up for the first time with 4:35 to play.
Yes, Gonzaga's potent offense had just 20 points through 15 minutes.
Derksen's other three put San Francisco up by seven points with 1:52 to play. But then the Zags started playing like, I don't know, the no. 7 ranked team in the country in a game against a sub-.500 team.
Przemek Karnowski answered the Derksen three with an three point play of his own, of the old-school variety. At the break the Zags trailed by two, 27-29.
Both teams opened the second half strong. After scoring less than 30 points in the first 20 minutes the two teams had ten more each in about the first five minutes of the second half.
Five minutes into the half Kyle Wiltjer fed Przemek Karnowski over the top for an easy slam. The overwhelmingly pro-Gonzaga had barely enough time to get to their feet before Tim Derksen connected with Mark Tollefsen for an alley-oop on the other end of the floor.
On the other side of the sub-16 media timeout the Zags built a four point lead, but both teams remained competitive. Then, San Francisco fell to pieces and Gonzaga happily swept them away.
Tim Derksen turned the ball over, Kyle Dranginis got a lay-up. Mark Tollefsen turned the ball over, Gary Bell hit a three. Devin Watson turned the ball over, Kyle Dranginis got a lay-up. Chris Adams turned the ball over, Kyle Wiltjer got a lay-up.
In what seemed like an instant the Zags were ahead by 14 points.
They would maintain a double figure lead for most of the remainder of the game. San Francisco cut it single digits with a three from, who else, Tim Derksen at the 4:08 mark. Then, a pair of Devin Watson free throws made it just a seven point game.
Luckily for the Zags, their good unit was in the game. They stopped the bleeding, thanks in part to two emphatic Angel Nunez blocks, and escaped on to Monday's semifinal against Pepperdine.